Following Jesus to Unexpected Places: Gentile Territory

Of the many unexpected places Jesus went, going among the Gentiles had to have been among the more surprising to His apostles and close disciples. So, why did He go to Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 15:21ff and Mark 7:24ff)? Everyone, including Jesus (He was God in human flesh), needs a little rest from the labors of healing, teaching, traveling, arguing (with religious teachers who didn’t understand God’s will), and mentoring the apostles and disciples that would change the world after His ascension. And the best place to do that would be away from the center of the Jewish world, Judea / Galilee. So, He and His close disciples all went to the region of Tyre and Sidon, non-Jewish cities northwest of Galilee. Here He found a place to stay, hoping to go unrecognized and be able to rest.

But by this point Jesus reputation had spread like wildfire, even among the non-Jews, and those who heard of His presence in Tyre couldn’t resist the chance to appeal to this worker of miracles for help. One such person was a desperate woman whose daughter was cruelly demon possessed, who begged Jesus for help.

Surprisingly, Jesus initially tries to ignore her. But this was a woman who wouldn’t be easily ignored; she keeps asking. Her persistence is enough to drive the disciples to distraction, and they ask Jesus to make her stop. So, Jesus tells her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This all by itself tells us something about the virtue of focus. But still this Syro-Phoenician woman doesn’t get the hint and continues to ask, “Lord, help me!”

Interestingly enough Jesus responds with a metaphor, a parable, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Matt. 15:26). Now, we’re likely to recoil a bit and wonder, Did Jesus just call her a dog? The answer is yes, but not in the unkind sense that it sometimes was and is used—it’s a parable, not an insult. People food was not prepared for the household animals, but for the family; Jesus’ teachings and signs would be offered to the Jews, the people God that had been working with for about 1800 years.

The woman wasn’t insulted or deterred; she grabbed on to the parable and pointed out that although dinner was prepared for the family, the pets did get a share, the crumbs accidentally dropped on the floor. And in my imagination, I can picture Jesus breaking out into a smile at the faith, the persistence, and the insight of the woman. She, a Gentile, got it. Surprise! And because she “got it”, she got the miracle that she sought at once.

Do we get it? Faith, persistence, and insight.

Faith to come to the Lord with our problems is bigger than it might seem at first, even for Christians. There’s just something about being human that pushes us to try to solve our own problems our own way rather than look to the Lord. I can’t help but wonder how much burden, heartache, trouble, and worry I might have saved myself over the years by taking my problems to the Lord and did what He commanded—instead of what I actually did and/or said. While God doesn’t desire us to be lazy and “helpless”, He also doesn’t expect us handle it all either. Truth be known, we really don’t have the power or even know how to handle most things well—1 Corinthians 1:25 “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” The woman knew where to go with her need; do we?

Persistence is yet another challenge to many of us who do look to the Lord for the solutions to our problems. When we don’t get the answer we desire immediately, we sometimes (maybe often) wrongly conclude that a) God isn’t interested in us, b) God isn’t interested in our problem, or c) we should bother God anymore. Sometimes—sometimes—God’s delay (as in the case of this Syro-Phoenician woman) has more to do with testing our faith than with God’s indifference to us our our problems. You didn’t really think Jesus was indifferent to the woman’s problem, did you? Persistence, importunity, not giving up is many times exalted as a virtue in Scripture, as an evidence of real faith. It’s not that God is amused by making anyone beg, but rather that He is interested in finding out through our persistence the depth of our faith.

Insight is perhaps the most tricky of the three, since it requires thoughtful reflection based on knowing God. The Syro-Phoenician woman may not have known much about the God of Israel, but she sensed Jesus’ kindness and compassion that spanned racial or ethnic boundaries by means of faith. And using Jesus’ parable, she found hope that her request might be fulfilled—“Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.” The point here is that insight, seeing things from God’s point of view, looking at things above not below, can lift our spirits, buoy us with joy, and give us hope, when hope might seem useless.

Are there requests that you are making of God? Faith, persistence, and insight. Don’t handle it all on your own; turn to the Lord. Don’t lose hope when things don’t happen within your timeframe, persist and continue. Look at things from God’s point of view, and hold on to hope!

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About parklinscomb

I'm a minister for the church of Christ in Manchester NH where I've worked since the 1970's. I'm a big fan of my family, archaeology, the Bible, the Lord's church, and Gander Brook Christian Camp.
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